It surprises me to still hear gay men talk about HIV and say things like, “but you don’t look positive”, or “you don’t look sick”, or my personal favorite, “Oh, I can usually tell just by looking if someone has it or not”. We probably all have our own preconceived notion about what the ‘typical’ HIV-positive person looks like. Before becoming positive myself, the mental picture I naively painted tended to be an older, mustachioed gay man, very skinny, wearing mostly leather, and involved in the types of drugs and sexual adventure that I was too scared to consider. Oh, and don’t forget about the poppers… my HIV-positive mental-man was a total popper fiend.

In all seriousness, a trained physician that specializes in treatment of HIV/AIDS can sometimes spot signs of opportunistic infections, drug therapy side-affects, or other conditions such as wasting in advanced cases of the illness. But most gay men don’t have this training and most HIV-positive men do not have any outward appearance that would indicate infection, even to the trained professional. HIV-positive folks can be very young, very old, and every age in-between. They come from every race, religion and ethnic background. And most of the HIV-positive gay men I speak with appear completely healthy.

A common misconception, especially among younger gay men, is to think that HIV is mostly a disease of older gay men, using statistics that indicate a higher infection rate among older gay men to give them a false sense of security when dating other young gay men. In terms of absolute total numbers that statistic is indeed true (the longer you live, the more chance of being exposed), but that should not give anyone a false sense of security. This statistic from the CDC should encourage younger readers to challenge this dangerous assumption:

“In the 13-to-24-year-old group, the average annual increase was 12 percent (newly diagnosed with HIV infection), compared with a 1 percent decline in 25-to-44-year-olds, and a 3 percent rise in gay men 45 and older.”

The article also implies that younger gay men have not had an opportunity to witness the serious consequences of HIV/AIDS. Most did not grow up seeing friends waste away and die around them, like those living in gay communities in the 1980s.

HIV should not be viewed as just another nuisance condition that can be easily treated by simply popping a pill. It’s not necessarily the death-sentence it was just 15 years ago, but it’s not a walk in the park either. It can be emotionally devastating, extremely expensive to treat and future progression of the disease, even with the fabulous new medications, is indefinite and full of potential health issues.

How could that sweet, innocent looking 18 year old boy possibly be HIV-positive? Well, maybe he’s not the complete virgin you think he is. In fact, maybe he’s the pass-around-party-bottom, just off the plane from a party week in Palm Springs, and just can’t get enough cock. He hasn’t ever been tested, so as he gazes at you with those big doe eyes and bats those long lashes at you, he’ll say with complete confidence, “I’m negative”.

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